These columns consist of synthesised material from across a broad range of my interests. Lately, I have been intrigued by the mind and have focused on directly experiencing it through attentive observation. The mind is very interesting, that is if you can manage to pay attention to it, and not let it consume you.
There are aspects of life, albeit in swimming training too, that one might describe as gruelling which require the ability to totally escape reality and retreat into a rich inner world of thought. Swimming in the mind and detached from immediate surroundings, the body seems to carry on as if under autopilot.
Physically, when this happens, areas of the brain that process sensory information become less active while there is more activity in what is referred to as the default mode network that goes into overdrive—active when we are remembering, and imagining. It’s as if we have been designed to escape an unpleasant reality of absolute boredom or pain by escaping into our thoughts.
Having a propensity towards introspection might provide entertainment during the gruelling monotony of endurance training, but that does not necessarily mean that one will be a good competitor. On the other hand, to compete to the best of one’s ability requires complete focus which arises from the cultivation of a quite opposite state in which the mind becomes very quiet; referred to as the flow state or the zone. This same state seems to arise in moments of intense danger when all of our attention becomes focused on the present moment.
This is where the magic happens in sport and in life. In this state of pure awareness, we are free from mental angst as our attention keeps up with where the present meets the future. Here, it brings new life into consciousness faster than the speed of thought, because there is no time for the mind to process the experience into a memory by separating it into the notions of a “me” as an experiencer that was separate from the thing that was just experienced.
When my mind is quiet, one is in the blissful totality of the experience. There is simply the experience in the present. In pure experiencing there is no thought, no notion of “me”, just “what is”. To be in this state is to move with life.
If I could stay in the present and move with life all the time, I would. However there will inevitably be times when life becomes a grind. Here, I have found that there is a tendency to escape the unpleasant and the overly familiar by retreating out of life and into the mind by repeatedly ruminating over familiar thought patterns, both positive and negative. These thought patterns seem to grow exponentially and can lead to anxiety and even depression.
In the mind, there can only be what the mind knows, and so thoughts tend to arise out of memory and not what actually is in the present. Even the notion of the future springs from anticipated feelings of past memories. I find myself dissipating energy by repeatedly judging each thought as it arises on its own as either good or bad, and trying in vain to hold onto the good and discard the bad.
I hope you can follow me up to this point. It’s possible to get back to where the magic happens, out of the mind and back into life. You can follow your attention wherever it goes, or you can use the mind to get out of the mind.
Now, the latter is where it gets interesting. Who is the “I” that is observing each thought and judging it as positive or negative? If you will look closely, then it is obvious that this “I” is nothing more than the illusory image you have of yourself that is nothing but a collection of other images, memories, past conditioning and not reality.
Have you ever experienced something so completely that you forgot about yourself for a brief moment? Don’t let the mind scan the memory to answer that, look around you! This is what I am talking about. We have been conditioned to experience reality, not as it actually is in the here and now, but in our minds as thoughts. The mind breaks up the objective truth of reality into our subjective perception of it as labels, memories, and our conditioned responses.
In this way we never actually live. We get trapped in the mind as the familiar illusion of an experiencer that is separate from what is actually being experienced. What is it that is experiencing the mind and its contents that include the idea of a separate experiencer with its judgements and perceptions of what is? You can’t look for that unknowable thing in the mind because it is beyond thought, but is the knower of thought.
Now that we have seen through the illusion of an experiencer who judges, we are free from judging to become the acceptance of the totality of what ever is. This is because, without the notion of the perceiver, we are what is, we are this moment, even if it is just the experience of a thought and the feeling that it elicits. Being reminded that the illusory notion of the separate experiencer is on a higher level being experienced, pulls us out of our minds and back into moving with life. Try it